Lessons from Grenfell Towers – Why regulations in design matter!

Posted by Phoebe Oldrey in Interior Design Advice

dining room renovation before, during renovation

As an interior designer everyone is keen find out my thoughts on Spring trends and sexy furniture. Now let’s face it these are great things to spend your working hours dealing with and I’m never going to complain about getting up everyday to play with such great toys! However, the thing that people never ask me about is all the regulations and codes I have to adhere to when designing and boy there are a lot, but codes and regulations don’t sound sexy and the certainly don’t look good on a Pinterest image.

Like everyone, I watched the news with horror as flames ripped through the 24 floors and 127 flats of Grenfell Towers.  Like everyone else I was shocked and angry to find out that bad decisions made during the £8.6 million refurbishment was the cause of this escalating from a containable fire to a national tragedy. As I type the deaths are suspected to be at 79 and rising.

Each one of those lives could have been saved if the Building codes on the materials used where adhered to. On some materials just common sense of going beyond code would have saved so many. I am sure as a result of any inquest we will see a step up in Building Code within the UK as a catalog of mistakes are brought to light.

Regulations exist – not to make our lives boring but to make them safe.

It is  absolutely vital that as Interior Designers we know these codes and we comply with them, even when clients are resistant due to the compromise these codes ask us to make to the dreamed aesthetics to a designs. A beautiful design will never make up for the fact that even on the simplest of jobs we hold people’s health and safety in our hands with the decision we make. In fact if we do not we are held legally accountable.

The regulations I encounter on every single design

I thought it might be help to talk a little of the top 4 Regulations and Codes beyond Building Regulations, Listed Building and Planning Permission I come in to contact with every day when designing.  These are the ones you should consider when undertaking any work yourselves.

Construction (Design and Management) – referred to as “C(DM)”

C(DM) requires that I make a client aware of their responsibilities and that I review every part of what I have designed to question any risk to health and safety through the three stages of a design/products life:

  • Implementation
  • Maintenance
  • Demolition

The lion share of the advice will sit in the construction/ implementation phase stage, where it most likely that an accident will occur. When I attended my C(DM) training I was surprised to hear that the majority of accidents and deaths occur on small to medium building sites, not the large ones as anticipated. The reason cited was that large sites are typically safely conscience and nothing is left to chance but small sites often get over-looked and it is all about the attitude of the site manager.

As a junior designer I watched in horror on one renovation as a builder pottered around a site full of debris, using power tools … while sporting flip flops. As these chaps aren’t hired by or managed by me all I can do is advise them through my risk assessment on my design work that proper safety gear should be worn at all times on site, but sadly some people think they know better. To this day, I still wonder if he has all his toes!

Maintenance is the next large one. The way someone can change a light bulb, clean a blind or reach a high cupboard is a day-to-day chore that can involve ladders and precarious stretches.  By recognizing the potential hazard, we can design ways to manage the risk as at the start of the project. Some churches have amazing systems in places that lower the lights from the ceiling making bulb changing easy-peasy and not the high risk game of the church warden holding a ladder while Father Hill wobbles around on the top sorting it out. It is our moral obligation to make sure that the design we propose isn’t risky and often having to address the necessary can lead to out of the box revolutionary design. In other words don’t always think of it as a handcap, but a gift to think creatively.

For more information on Construction (Design and Management.) follow this link to the Health And Safety Executives’ guildelines: .

Fire safety of furniture and furnishings in the home

Other Regulations involve fire rating on upholstery brought into force after the 80s saw a high number of deaths in house fires as flammable couches went up in minutes of contact with a match or cigarette. The UK has a stronger fire regulation than Europe which means we often have to add interliners and back coat fabrics to meet UK Fire standards. I have popped the full details here

This video shows a test on both a UK regulation sofa and a European standard sofa.  It is terrifying to watch how quickly a sofa fire can burn a house down:

It can take as little at 2 minutes to have an inferno on your hands in a living room, as seen in this video and is a stark reminder that it is our duty to make this as preventable as possible. Though smoking isn’t as prevalent as it used to be, the rise of the scented candle market poses another domestic fire risk.

Curtain and Blind Cords

About 4 years ago the UK introduced regulation with regards to the strings on blinds and curtains following a number of deaths of children strangled by getting the cord wrapped round themselves. Many people at the time where annoyed at the introduction of the regulation saying “Well it was only a handful of kids.” My personal opinion is that even one is too many and to have it be your kid is unthinkable. Now blinds come on a headrail with breakaway chains so if anyone does become wrapped up the chain snaps and the child is safe. Also the length of chain from floors and surfaces as well as the placement of beds and cots near to blinds is listed in the regulations and needs to be taken into account when designing. Many houses still have the old strings on blinds that where fitted before the change of law but as renovations happen we will eventually see them completely gone from homes. Here is a link to a full set of the regulations.

Part P Lighting and Electrical

This bad boy came out a while ago and basically says that any electrical work in kitchens and bathrooms needs to be done by a professional Electrician and any other work done in the house needs to comply with code and be tested by a qualified electrician. A “Part P” certificate is issued to say it is compliant.

The type of lights used in “wet areas” need to have the right IP rating. This regulation, introduced in in 2005, was in answer to the dodgy electrics slapped in by keen DIYers that resulted in electrocution and house fires.  It can be easy to zap yourself due to a hidden wire that is located somewhere it shouldn’t be. A simple guide to Part P is here and worth checking out.

I hope by sharing a few of the codes that come up on each project that it helps you think about the design decisions you make in your renovations.  These should not be a hidden secret we professionals keep to ourselves, indeed it is important that anyone advising you on interior design is up to speed on them.  Yes they are boring – trust me it’s not the most riveting side of my work, but it is very vital part of my work.

Always be questioning and checking everything with a view to safety and don’t cut corners with these things. If something goes wrong, the consequences can be too painful to even contemplate.

If you wish to help the Resistances of Grenfell Tower rebuild their lives please visit the Just Giving page. HERE!!

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